MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year has come down to two men and one day.
Kevin VanDam blew the field away with 14 pounds, 3 ounces and put the pressure on Skeet Reese. Reese held serve and sits in third place, but with one day of fishing still to go, it's wide open.
Here's a look at the top six coming into the Evan Williams Trophy Triumph, their thoughts about today, their thoughts about tomorrow and their chances of winning Angler of the Year.
If it ended today, Reese leads Angler of the Year by 6 points. On the points scale, that's a little more than one place. So, assuming VanDam wins this, which is not a bold assumption, Reese can afford to drop one place.
In his mind, it's 11 to 12 pounds on Friday to be sure. Anything less takes the event out of his hands and puts it in the hands of 10 guys who don't have a shot at winning.
"Kevin definitely put the pressure on today, but it's not like I'm surprised," Reese said. "It's only something he's done about a billion times."
Much was made of Reese's decision to go north on the Alabama River while everyone else headed south on Thursday, but he feels like he made the right decision. He caught the majority of his limit, including his biggest bass, in his initial spot. He eventually moved to the south portion on the river in the afternoon, but his one regret on Thursday was not going back to that first spot later in the day.
"I knew I needed to go back there and I chickened out because I didn't want to make the run," he said. "I wish I would have because I could have caught the kicker bite I needed in there. Then again, I could have caught nothing."
He's also dealing with the fact that he missed some bites today that might have put the event away to a certain extent, but he doesn't seem too worried about what happened, he's more focused on what's going to happen.
When he went to bed last night, he still didn't know if he was going north or south. Tonight, he knows he's going north, back to the same spot because he believes that's where the fish are that will win him his second Angler of the Year title in three years.
VanDam was a completely different person than he was six days ago before the start of the Berkley Powerbait Trophy Chase on Lake Jordan.
Last Friday, he looked a little frazzled, his bite wasn't working and he was very much not the VanDam everyone has grown accustomed to.
After weighing in almost four pounds more than second place on the Alabama River, he was back to his old self. He was cordial on stage, talking about mud, current and a tough bite, but backstage he said he felt like he missed them.
"Tomorrow is my day, I promise you that," he said.
Even if he didn't feel confident, you can pretty much lock him in as the winner. On this river, 4 pounds is nearly insurmountable.
"The other guys in the field have to catch them and Skeet has to have a tough day," he said. "After last week, I knew I would have to win. I was disappointed at Jordan — that was costly."
It may be too little, too late, but VanDam is doing his part now. He sure had made Friday intriguing.
VanDam's 14-pound day not only put the pressure on Reese, but it officially ended Iaconelli's long shot bid for the AOY title. He did well enough with 10-5 to be sitting fourth in the tournament (third in the standings), but he knows it's over.
"I pretty much knew coming in here that I was fishing for third," he said. "But I've just been putting my head down and fishing hard."
Iaconelli said he'd be happy finishing inside the top five in AOY, but he's not lost on the fact that third-place money is better than fourth-place money.
Biffle made a run at things during the Lake Jordan tournament, but didn't do enough to put himself in a position with a reasonable shot coming to the Alabama River. At this point, Biffle is fishing for third, and it's something worth fishing for.
"I don't know where I will end up after today, but I expect I'll fall a little bit," he said after weighing in 8-9 (10th)."This game here is not about pounds and ounces — it's all about points."
Biffle said he had a lot of bites on the current in practice, but that nothing was working for him on Thursday.
"My goal is just to catch a good bag fishing shallow tomorrow, and I will probably make up some ground in the TTBAOY standings," he said.
Howell did not have a lot of fun fishing on Thursday. He knew if he wanted to make a move, he needed more than just a good bag. He caught a limit of small spots early and went flipping a jig in grass for the largemouth bite he felt he needed.
He caught the big bass of the day, 3-8, but that's about all he caught. He said he felt like he flipped 5 miles of grass today and had almost nothing to show for it with an 8-10 bag.
"I did what I thought I had to do today to make a move and it just didn't work," he said. "I'm planning on doing the same thing tomorrow."
Jones had the best shot of anyone at interrupting the VanDam-Reese show, but a poor showing on Lake Jordan put him out of it. He's been third almost all season, and he's looking to get that spot back.
He caught 9 pounds even on Thursday, which puts him middle of the pack with a chance to make a move. He said he had two 5-pounders out deep in practice, but that the rain and mud beat that pattern up.
"The current is always helpful, but today it was actually slow during tournament hours," he said. "If we had a hard push like we saw yesterday with all the rain and water coming from the dam, the big fish would really get fired up."